Fishing the Kern River Valley

The Kern River Valley is one of the most diversified fisheries in the state. In one day an angler can fish for native trout in high country creeks, fish for stocked rainbow trout on the main Kern River, and finish up at Lake Isabella for some great lake fishing. The lake offers great catfishing, bass fishing, crappie and rainbow trout fishing.

There are many creeks just a short drive from the Kern River Valley full of mature trout.  Bull Run, Salmon, Brush, Bone, Nobel Young, Peppermint, Freeman, and South creeks to name a few. All are a day trip from the Valley.  The season for these tributary creeks starts on the last Saturday in April thru mid-November.

There are many methods for taking these native fish. For bait fisherman it is crickets, worms, and salmon eggs as the top three baits. The trick is presentation. These creeks are narrow and overgrown with brush. A short ultralight rod is a necessity. Light gear is important, a lot of time an angler will be making underhand casts.

Artificial lures and flies are also an effective way to catch these fish. Small spinners in the 1/32 oz. size are the way to go. Fly fishing these creeks is tough sue to the limited access. A lot of anglers will use a clear bobber above their favorite fly on light spinning tackle.

Fishing the main Kern River is a different ballgame. The main Kern is open and stocked year-round. From Johnsondale bridge down to Bakersfield is accessible by car. During the runoff from April to June (depending on the snowpack) the river can be very rough. Whitewater rafting and kayaking are in full swing this time of year. Fishermen need to concentrate on shore structure and slack water behind rocks this time of year.

The rest of the year the Kern is very fishable. Early morning and late evening are the best times to fish. During low light conditions the insects will become active on the water’s surface. The trout will become active feeding on insects.

The traditional salmon egg split shot set-up has been an effective way to take trout on the Kern River for years. A split-shot 18 inches above a #10 or #12 hook.  Cast out and let the salmon egg flow with the current. Adjust the size of the weight of the split-shot to the strength of the river’s current.

Some of the same spinners that work well on the creeks will also work on the main Kern. Panther Martins, Mepps, Vilmax and Rooster Tails in the 1/8 oz. size are deadly on the Kern River rainbow trout. Other lures that are effective are spoons and small Rapala-type minnow lures. As far as fly fishing goes it’s all about matching what insects are landing on the river’s surface.

Lake Isabella is one of the best crappie fishing lakes in the state. Lake Isabella also hosts professional bass tournaments and is home to one of the largest trout derby’s in the nation. Not to mention catfish in the 40 to 50 pound class hauled out of Lake Isabella.

Around March on Lake Isabella, when water temperatures warm to around 60 degrees, the crappie move into the shallows to spawn. Twenty-five-fish-limits are common this time of year. Shore fishermen as well as boat fishermen are successful.

All-time best bait is live minnow. Meal worms also work well. A cigar bobber above a #6 or #8 hook allowing the minnow to swim freely is deadly on crappie.  Crappie jigs are also a very effective way to fish.  A 1/32 oz. jig with crappie nibble on the hook is the way to go. Red and white, yellow and white, and plain white are popular color jigs to use.

Bass fishing is legendary on Lake Isabella. Three of the largest bass ever to be caught in the country have been caught in Lake Isabella. Bass in the 8-to-10 pound range are common in Lake Isabella. Bass love to gorge on the healthy threadfin shad and crawdad population in the lake. Crank baits in a shad pattern and soft plastics in a crawdad pattern are very effective for catching big mouths.

Catfish up to 50 pounds have been caught out of Lake Isabella. The area plenty of trophy cats in the lake. Catfish are a hardy fish and take advantage of the large food source the lake has to offer. Many baits are effective for cats. Clams, crawlers, shad and mackerel are a few favorites.

The main event on Lake Isabella is held every year a week before Easter –  The Lake Isabella Fishing Derby. Trophy and catchable trout are tagged and stocked for cash and prizes for anglers. A great family event, anybody can sign up and fish.

When planning a fishing trip to the Kern River Valley remember to bring a lot of gear. The choices are plentiful, a fisherman’s dream.